I've missed you guys. Does that sound strange? Perhaps. So be it.
Life has been good busy as usual. We've been recovering from the holidays and sundry seasonal illnesses, we hosted Big Girl's surprisingly wild My Little Pony 7th birthday party at home, I've been logging long hours on the book, cooking meals (!), juggling. You know how it is. But the thing is that I've realized something, and keenly too:
This blog makes me happy.
When I am not blogging, I feel like something is missing.
That's right. Having this blog and updating it regularly and hearing from all of you adds tremendous value to my life and makes me a happier person. I think I've always known this at least subconsciously, but a few things have made me realize it consciously and clearly. And so the good news is that I plan to become a bit more regular with my postings.
One of the things that made me realize this connection between my ramblings here and my level happiness in life was a lecture I had the privilege of attending last weekend. It was a lecture on the Science of Happiness given by Amherst Professor Catherine A. Sanderson here in the city at One Day University. In a wonderful turn of events, Catherine reached out to me a while back and introduced herself, said she'd been reading this blog (the connections that arise from this blog make me very happy), thought we had much in common and explored similar questions in our work, and invited me to her talk. I finagled a plus-one and brought Husband.
The lecture was phenomenal. I felt like I was back in college listening to the best of the best. I found myself nodding and smiling. I felt very energized and inspired and I've been wanting to write about what I learned. So here I am. Doing just that.
Professor Sanderson talked about so many studies and questions and shared some brilliant quotes on the topic, but it was the takeaway that really stayed with me. At the end of her lecture, she listed the Top Ten Strategies for Increasing Happiness. When I was emailing with her this morning and asked if I could share her wisdom here, she mentioned that it is her hope that people grab on to one of these and focus on it as a means of boosting happiness in their lives. At the end of this post, I'd be curious to know which of these strategies jump out at you...
So, here they are:
Top Ten Strategies for Increasing Happiness
1. Keep a "gratitude journal"
Keeping track of the things in life we are grateful for makes us happier. On many levels, I think this blog of mine (and many blogs) are actually gratitude journals in disguise wherein we document our lives and the gratitude we feel within the context of our lives. Also, interestingly, for me, I think Instagram is kind of a modern gratitude journal where I dutifully collect glimpses of my life and express how grateful I am for my more serious and silly moments as a mom/writer/person.
2. Make a "gratitude visit"
This one is interesting. Professor Sanderson says that there are people in our lives who have been very important and influential but that we too often wait until they have passed away to take the time to articulate our gratitude for them and their legacy. She argues that writing a letter to someone who has been important to us and then visiting this person and reading the letter aloud can greatly boost our happiness. I buy it.
3. Read a book you love
Oh yes. For me, dipping into a good book, whether long-treasured or new, offers an instant up in happiness. Professor Sanderson joked that her husband reads the same book over and over (Cormac McCarthy's On the Road) and that doing this makes him very happy.
4. Smile (even when you aren't "happy")
Per studies, smiling (even when we don't feel like it) boosts our levels of happiness. In keeping with the fake it til you make it line of thinking...
5. Get enough sleep
A big one, I think. I've been thinking a lot about sleep recently and how it affects my mood and productivity. I know personally that if I do not get enough sleep or enough good sleep, I feel like a lesser version of myself. As I type these words, I am coming off a night where my baby woke up several times (apparently the Full Moon is to blame?) and I'm feeling it. Caffeine helps a bit, but I know what I need is a good night of sleep tonight. Moreover, I remember reading somewhere that very often people who think they are suffering from Depression or Anxiety are actually just not getting enough sleep.
6. Savor the everyday moments
Yes! Those of you who have been reading my blog know that I have gone on and on about Moments, the big and little moments of our days that make up our days and our lives. It has been my belief that making the effort to see these moments and process them and enjoy them however mundane is a robust source of well-being. Well, Professor Sanderson confirmed that I am onto something! Another good reason to continue my ongoing Ode to Moments here.
7. Perform random acts of kindness (5 a day)
We are all busy and performing five random acts of kindness might seem, at first blush, like a lot. But Professor Sanderson said that the following count as acts: volunteering, donating to a charity, giving a gift to a friend, paying a compliment. It's my feeling that commenting on someone's blog should count as an act and maybe this will prompt me to get better about reading my favorite blogs and joining the conversations again...
8. Figure out your strengths and find ways to use them
One of the trickier ones, I think. What are our strengths? I think this is sometimes hard to know, but I imagine that we all have a hunch about what we are good at. All modesty aside, I know that I am good at asking questions and provoking thoughts and starting conversations. These things come very naturally to me and I always feel good when I do them. Another compelling reason to keep the blogging up.
9. Frame challenges in a positive light
Another harder one. Something I've realized? Adulthood is tricky terrain. I have been through hard stuff (a miscarriage, the death of my father, a struggle with alcohol and anxiety, etc). People I know are going through illness and loss and divorce and addiction... the list, unfortunately, goes on. But I do think that insofar as we cannot eliminate these hardships from our lives, we can work hard to frame these challenges in a positive or more positive light. I know that I am able to now look at the loss of my Dad as the reason I became a writer. I know that I am able to look at my Year Without Wine and see that struggle as a immense catalyst for better health, clarity, and self-knowledge.
10. Make careful comparisons
A huge one, I think. We are happier if we do not get overly sucked into comparing our lives/families/careers/etc to those of others. Some comparison is unavoidable and probably a good thing, but we must be careful. In this age of social media, I think this can be particularly hairy. It is hard not to feel bad about our own lives and struggles when we see picture-perfect updates on our friends' Instagram, Facebook, Twitter feeds, etc.
Gotta say, writing this post (in a noisy NYC coffee shop while sipping some delightful Cherry Blossom Green Tea) has made me quite happy... Oh, and for the record, Furbies (pictured above) do NOT make me happier...
What are your thoughts on these 9 strategies? Are there particular ones that you believe in? Do you buy that there is a Science of Happiness that can be studied, taught, and learned? Does blogging (or something else) add markedly to your happiness?